Rebecca Ahlquist's Reviews > The Pianist: The Extraordinary Story of One Man's Survival in Warsaw, 1939–45

The Pianist by Władysław Szpilman
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Aug 21, 2010

really liked it

For some reason, I am drawn to Holocaust survivor stories. The Pianist is one of my favorites. Szpilman wrote this right after the war, so the tone of the story is muted, detached, and very matter of fact, as he was still reeling from his experiences. It is almost as if someone other than himself went through everything he describes.

The book is not written in strict chronological order. The beginning thrusts the reader right in the middle of Szpilman's life in the Warsaw Ghetto, and then goes backward to the beginning of the War as he recounts how he got to that point. The story then moves forward until Poland is liberated and he can resume his life.

Is Szpilman a hero? No. Does he do amazing things? Not really. Is he a particularly outstanding individual? Not at first glance. But that is what is compelling about the life of this man. He was a perfectly ordinary human being-with the huge exception of his musical talent-who is forced to deal with utterly extraordinary events.

And he survives. That is his amazing accomplishment. I think that is why I am drawn to these stories. Simply survival against monstrous odds.

There are times in Szpilman's story where he states that he gets a feeling or a thought that he heeds, and it ends up saving his life. Although there is no religious overtone to this story (unlike The Hiding Place) but as a religious person, I believe those are times when God was whispering to Szpilman. He grew to trust these impressions, and because of this he stayed alive.

This story is peppered with heart-wrenching scenes of loss, violence, incomprehensible cruelty, and deep sadness. But always Szpilman keeps going, moving ahead, fighting in his quiet way for his life.

I love music, and I think that is why this story speaks to strongly to me. In the end, his music literally saves his life, both as an anchor that he clings to during the bad months as Szpilman spends weeks alone in bombed out Warsaw, and near the end of the story when....well, you will have to read it to find out what happens!

A beautiful and compelling story.

As a side note to the book, a movie by the same name was made in 2002. It is a brilliant adaptation of the book. The actor who played Szpilman won the Oscar for best actor.

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